Interior Motives: Nick Patten’s Domestic Scenes

There’s a soft, uncanny quality to the interiors of artist Nick Patten that calls to mind the American Realism of Edward Hopper. But while Hopper’s world is populated by disconnected, often solitary figures, Patten’s is completely devoid of human life. The stillness, and the sense that the viewer has just walked into a home where the owner is away and is peeking through doors casually left open (see Echoes, 2014), imbues each empty room with heavy emotion. 

Patten creates this work in a converted barn behind his Hudson Valley home, where he looks to photographs for inspiration. “I use what I call the ‘process of exclusion,’ which means I sort through what’s on the film and take out all extraneous objects, sometimes adding things from my imagination,” Patten has said. “With the design in place, I then work to create a balance, harnessing the bold contrasts of light and shadow to reveal the quiet drama in an everyday scene.” 

This way, the work is never strictly photographic, something the artist himself notes. In pieces like CM’s Fern, the sunlight through a window creates a gauzy glow, while in other works sunlight becomes the main character, streaking against walls in sharp diagonal as in the work of that other master of light, Johannes Vermeer. Contrasting these large swathes of late-afternoon sunlight are the rich, jewel-box colors of the shadowy rooms. Here, the space is not the backdrop, but the very subject of the work itself. In Patten’s hands, the spaces we sometimes ignore are given the detailed treatment of still life or portraiture. 

Heather Corcoran